FRANCE’S vaccine crisis has deepened after experts warned the country faces a third wave of coronavirus this year.
Experts at the country’s renowned Institut Pasteur say France’s current 100,000 jabs a day rollout has been ‘insufficient’ to stop a highly infectious strain of the virus that is currently ripping through France.
The Institut predicts that by the time Britain aims to have vaccinated all over 50s in April, France will be facing a third massive surge in cases due to a huge amount of its population remaining unvaccinated.
While the UK hopes for a summer boom, the EU is still fighting a massive vaccine crisis and lockdowns show no signs of ending soon.
Having seemingly deliberately undermined confidence in the brilliant Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine simply as a way of bashing Britain post-Brexit, both France and Germany are now having to beg their citizens to take it.
Vaccine take-up in Europe is much lower than the UK, partly as a result of politicians like French leader Emmanuel Macron shamefully branding the UK-developed Oxford / Astra-Zeneca jab “quasi-ineffective”.
His reckless attempts to bash Britain left him red-faced, however, as the vaccine has since been shown to have staggeringly high efficacy in all age groups and he’s now begging citizens to take it to end their lockdown woes.
The front page of German newspaper Bild yesterday declared ‘Dear Brits, we envy you” with the attached article saying the UK’s ‘successful’ vaccine programme allowed Boris Johnson to promise a brighter future to Brits
It added that while the UK sees light at the end of the tunnel, Germany remains “stuck in lockdown” with Angela Merkel‘s government languishing well behind in handing out vaccine doses.
Follow our live blog below for the very latest on the UK ‘s path out of lockdown…
STURGEON LASHES OUT AT BORIS’ ‘MADE UP’ LOCKDOWN END DATE
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has lashed out at Boris Johnson’s ‘made up’ June 21 lockdown end date.
Sturgeon addressed the PM’s target date as she took her daily briefing after unveiling her own rival ‘roadmap’.
Her blueprint, which was even more cautious in key respects than in England, has sparked anger due to its failure to give any key dates beyond April.
Sturgeon has promised to give another update in mid-March.
PM WILL ‘STICK TO PLAN’ WHEN ASKED IF THERE IS WIGGLE ROOM ON COVID ROADMAP STEPS
Asked about “wiggle room” on current plans to lift lockdown if the data suggests infections and hospital admissions are falling fast as the vaccines are rolled out, the Prime Minister said: “I think it’s very important to have a timetable that is sensible, that is cautious, but one that is also irreversible.
“And that’s the virtue of the timetable we have set out. Everybody knows the dates – March 8, kids back in school, April 12, shops reopen, May 17 hospitality reopens, June 21, we hope, if all things go according to plan, a general reopening.
“And I think those are a series of dates, towards which people can work and I think that the people of this country would rather trade some haste for some certainty and that’s why we’ve done it in the way that we have and we will still continue to stick to that plan.
“We’re sticking to our plan, obviously we will continue to look at data but the data currently still shows, as you know, that the incidence of the disease, sadly remains high. I’m afraid the numbers of people in hospital are still not far below the peak that they were in April last year.
“So we think that the road map that we’ve set out is a good and balanced one for us to get on a journey that is cautious, but as I say irreversible as well.”
WATCH: PM CALLS EXAM COMPROMISE ‘FAIR AND DURABLE’
BORIS JOHNSON HAILS PLANS FOR TEACHERS TO GRADE PUPILS AS ‘A GOOD COMPROMISE’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the plans for teachers to grade pupils this summer were a “good compromise” as he backed Education Secretary Gavin Williamson following last year’s exams row.
On a visit to Accrington Academy in Lancashire on Thursday morning, Mr Johnson said: “I think in an ideal world you would not have taken kids out of school because of the pandemic, we wouldn’t have been forced to do this and in an ideal world we’d be continuing with exams as you normally have them, and the best place for kids is in the classroom and the best way to check on kids’ progress is with normal exams.
“But I think this is as good a compromise as we can come to. I think it will be fair, I think it will be durable and it’s the right way forward.”
Asked if he had confidence in the Education Secretary, the Prime Minister replied: “Of course, and I think that what we are doing is the right thing to get all our students, our pupils, back on March 8, I think that is what parents, teachers and overwhelmingly what pupils want to do, and I’ve just been talking to some of them here at Accrington Academy and they are really looking forward to it.
“They have done very well, learning remotely, they’ve stuck with it, it’s been productive and got better over the course of the lockdowns, but the best place for kids is in schools and they have got absolutely no doubt about it the pupils themselves.”
WHAT IS THE LONG TERM PLAN FOR KIDS TO CATCH UP?
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson also confirmed a long-term plan will be developed to help children catch up.
He told MPs an “incredible” amount of work has been done to minimise the impact of the pandemic, adding: “I know from the research we’ve been conducting that it won’t be enough.
“Many children are going to need longer-term support to make up for lost learning.
“We want families to know that there will be support for schools and for our children.
“Sir Kevan Collins, our education recovery commissioner, will be working with parents, teachers and schools on a long-term plan to make sure pupils have the chance to make up their learning over the course of their education.”
WHAT DID GAVIN WILLIAMSON SAY IN THE COMMONS TODAY?
The education secretary outlined in the House of Commons how kids will get back to school, including:
- £200million extra cash for secondary schools for summer schools
- Face coverings for kids in classrooms until at least Easter – where it will then be reviewed
- Two tests a week for kids – the first two at home
- More than 4 million tests have already been completed across primary, secondary schools, colleges and universities
- Primary school staff will still get two tests a week, but the kids won’t have them
- Staggered start times at schools and bubble groups will continue to keep them safe
- Ministers confirmed face masks and Covid tests aren’t mandatory for students
GAVIN WILLIAMSON TELLS MPs NEW GRADING APPROACH WILL BE ‘FAIR AND ROBUST’
Mr Williamson told the Commons today there was widespread support for the approach they were setting out which was “fair and robust”.
He added: “Our priority is and has always been to make sure that every student has the best possible chance to show what they know and can do, enabling them to progress to the next stage of their education, training or employment.”
After schools have been shut for many pupils for weeks, he stressed “the end is very clearly in sight” and rates have come down enough to get all kids back from March 8 in England.
They will only be graded on the work they have done, and not the work they’ve missed.
Teachers can choose a range of work including tests, coursework and mock exams to help decide the grades.
JANUARY LOCKDOWN SAW 700,000 MORE WORKERS FURLOUGHED
The number of people on furlough ballooned by around 700,000 in January as harsher lockdown restrictions were imposed at the beginning of the month.
Around 4.7 million people were furloughed on January 31, up from four million a month earlier, the Treasury revealed on Thursday.
It means that in total, 11.2 million employees across the UK have been given cash under the scheme, which pays up to 80% of salaries to those who cannot work because of Covid-19 restrictions.
As of February 15, a total of £53.8 billion had been claimed since the furlough scheme began last year.
The data shows lockdown has hit the accommodation and food services sector worst, as it furloughed 1.15 million people, with 68% of employers tapping into the scheme – an increase of three percentage points since December 31.
SHOP TIL YOU DROP
Rishi Sunak has been urged to give Brits free high street vouchers in next week’s budget as part of a ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ scheme.
Influential think-tank The Resolution Foundation says the Chancellor must pump £30billion into business bailouts, furlough and a Shop Out to Help Out voucher scheme to aid the high street.
1.7 MILLION RAPID TESTS ADMINISTERED IN ENGLAND LAST WEEK
A total of 1,756,402 lateral flow device (LFD) tests for Covid-19, or rapid tests, were conducted in England in the week to February 17, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.
This is down from a record 2,401,651 rapid tests in the previous week.
The Department of Health said the drop coincided with school half-term holidays.
LFD tests are swab tests that give results in 30 minutes or less, without the need for processing in a laboratory.
By contrast, 1,116,433 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests were conducted in the week to February 17. PCR tests are swab tests that are processed in a laboratory.
KIDS COMPANY FOUNDER DEMANDS APOLOGY FROM MICHAEL GOVE AND CRITICISES ‘SMEAR CAMPAIGN’
Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh has demanded Michael Gove apologise to children who lost support from the collapsed charity after she won a High Court disqualification battle.
She accused the senior minister on Thursday of having been “really disingenuous” and hit out over a “smear campaign”, accusing former Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings of briefing against the organisation.
The charity, which supported vulnerable young people in London and Bristol, had a number of famous backers, including former prime minister David Cameron, but it was wound up in 2015.
The closure came shortly after police launched a subsequently-dropped investigation into unfounded allegations of abuse and exploitation, following the broadcast of a BBC Newsnight report.
Earlier this month, the charity’s trustees said they had been “exonerated” when Mrs Justice Falk concluded after a 10-week trial that no disqualification order should be made against them.
WATCH: BRITS PM’S COVID RULE END DATE OF JUNE 21 IS TO COINCIDE WITH HIS BIRTHDAY
GOVERNMENT WORKING ‘FLAT OUT’ TO REMOVE US TARIFFS ON SCOTTISH GOODS
Liz Truss told MPs the Government is working “flat out” to ensure US tariffs on Scottish goods are removed.
Conservative MP John Lamont (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) asked what the Government is doing to ensure US tariffs on Scotch whisky and cashmere are repealed.
The International Trade Secretary replied: “These tariffs are damaging on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Today we are seeing the confirmation hearing of the new US trade representative and as soon as that is finished I will be on the phone to her seeking an early resolution of these issues.”
Pressed again on the matter by SNP MP David Linden (Glasgow East), Ms Truss added: “I can assure you that the Prime Minister is exercised about this issue as am I and we are working flat out to get an agreement to make sure that these tariffs are removed.”
TORY EUROSCEPTICS DEMAND NORTHERN IRELAND PROTOCOL IS DITCHED
Tory Brexiteers have called on Boris Johnson to scrap the arrangements for Northern Ireland which he agreed with Brussels.
The European Research Group (ERG) has published a report which concluded the Northern Ireland Protocol had a “profound and negative effect”.
The protocol was designed by the EU and UK to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
It achieves this by effectively creating a regulatory and customs border in the Irish Sea, with goods imported into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK subject to a range of new processes.
This has caused some disruption to trade since it came into effect on December 31, and those difficulties could intensify significantly on April 1 when a grace period currently limiting the bureaucracy applied to imported supermarket goods ends.
TORY MPS URGE CHANCELLOR NOT TO RAISE FUEL TAX IN BUDGET
More than two dozen Tory MPs have written to Mr Sunak urging him not to raise fuel tax in his Budget.
The Conservative Party had a manifesto commitment, called the “triple tax lock”, that pledged to not raise the rates of income tax, national insurance or value added tax.
TRAINEE TEACHERS COULD RUN SUMMER SCHOOLS
Trainee teachers and new graduates could run the summer schools that are being funded, the Government has suggested.
Asked who would facilitate the extra catch-up sessions during the holidays, schools minister Nick Gibb told Sky News: “We want them run from schools but the reason why there is funding is to enable the schools to be able to employ people to be able to run those summer schools – we want a summer of activities.
“There are a whole raft of people who will be able to come in – young graduates, people who are training to be teachers, retired teachers – that is a matter for the school to decide.
“But we are providing £200 million to enable schools to run those summer schools, and that is on top of all the other measures.”
BORIS JOHNSON HAILS ‘FAIR AND FLEXIBLE’ SCHOOL SYSTEM
The Prime Minister tweeted this morning: “This fair and flexible system will ensure all young people can progress to the next stage of their education or career.”
TESTS AND MASKS IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS WILL NOT BE COMPULSORY
Face masks and Covid tests will not be compulsory in secondary schools when kids return on March 8.
The Government has said both measures are “voluntary” and that teachers should not send pupils home for refusing.
Boris Johnson announced this week that secondary school kids are to be tested twice a week under fresh plans to get children back in the classroom in England next month.
GO SLOW BO
Gavin Williamson insisted tonight that lockdown easing WON’T be sped up despite demands from Tory MPs.
The Education Secretary revealed at tonight’s press conference that 18.2million have now got the vaccine across the UK as the rollout continues to go from strength to strength.
And he backed comments from Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Downing Street that this was the right approach.
Even Professor Neil Ferguson had suggested that the lockdown lifting schedule may be sped up.
Jacob Rees-Mogg had admitted that there may be some “flexibility” in the timetable.
PROTECTIONS FOR UNDERCOVER AGENTS MOVE CLOSER TO BECOMING LAW
Proposals to protect undercover agents from prosecution if they are forced to break the law during operations are on the verge of becoming law.
MPs again considered amendments to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill as it moved between the Commons and Lords under the parliamentary process known as “ping pong”.
But the legislation appears on course to clear Parliament following a debate which contained no pushes for further major changes.
Earlier this month the Government saw off a final bid by peers to explicitly ban the state from authorising undercover agents to kill, torture or rape.
Ministers have previously insisted there are already upper limits on what agents would be allowed to do under human rights legislation.
MINISTERS LAUNCH NEW ‘STAY AT HOME’ DRIVE AS COVID RATES CONTINUE TO FALL
The Government has launched a new “stay at home” drive despite falling coronavirus rates, the success of the vaccine rollout and the announcement of a road map out of lockdown.
Ministers said it was essential that people continued mask-wearing, social distancing and hand washing as restrictions in England began to ease to keep the disease under control.
As a new advertising blitz was launched, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said “we must all continue to play our part” in controlling the spread of the virus.
Earlier, the deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam acknowledged that there had been a “slowdown” in the vaccine rollout due to supply fluctuations.
But he insisted he remained confident the targets of giving a first dose to the top nine priority groups by mid-April and to all adults by the end of July will be met.
PUPILS WILL BE ABLE TO SIT EXAMS, SAYS SCHOOLS MINISTER
Pupils will be able to sit exams if they decide that is how they perform best, the schools minister has said.
Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain (GMB), Nick Gibbs said: “There will be mocks in some schools where that student can thrive.
“There is an option for teachers to use the question bank of past paper questions that exams boards are producing for schools to use if they wish, to give an extra layer of evidence that teachers can have and can compile to submit to the exam board.
“So I think there will be options for those students to take one of those optional papers or questions if the teacher decides that is best for the student.”
Mr Gibb said there is “an autumn series” of exams available for those pupils who “really did want to take the exam” as part of any resit.
TEACHERS WILL HAVE TO SHOW EVIDENCE FOR GRADES THEY GIVE< SAYS SCHOOLS MINISTER
The schools minister said teachers would have to show evidence for the grades they give, as part of checks against grade inflation.
Nick Gibb told BBC Breakfast: “Teachers will be required to produce the evidence and the second layer of quality assurance is checking by the exam boards.
“So if the grades when they are submitted, if in a particular school they look very out of line with the achievements of that school in the past, that will be a signal for the exam board to pay extra attention, maybe pay a visit to that school to make sure that the evidence the teacher has collected to justify that grade really does justify that grade.”
Asked whether he accepted grades would be inflated this year, Mr Gibb replied: “Well, that’s why we’ve put in place all these different checking mechanisms to make sure that there is consistency.
“But it is very important that the pandemic does not prevent students from going on to the next stage of their careers, whether that is to college or to university or to an apprenticeship, so we want to make sure that, despite the disruption that students have faced, they will still be able to progress.”
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